Since civil war erupted in Syria in 2011, Turkey has become host to the largest number of Syrians fleeing their country—about 2.7 million registered refugees—and the largest refugee-receiving country in the post-World War II period. The expected and unexpected consequences of this phenomenon are unfolding before our very eyes. From international security to humanitarian aid, from the role of international organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to relations between Turkey and the European Union (EU), the Syrian refugee flows will have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences. This influx also forces social scientists to rethink the concepts that are customarily used in migration studies, such as integration, refugee, resettlement, and so on. In the upcoming special issue of New Perspectives on Turkey at Cambridge University Press, a group of researchers focuses on one particular aspect of the Syrian refugee flow into Turkey; namely, its impact on labor relations.

Syrian refugees face various kinds of precariousness and uncertainty in Turkey in terms of their legal status, their position in the labor market, and the conditions of precarity that already exist in the country. Initially welcomed as “guests” as part of an open-door policy, in 2014 they were granted “temporary protection” status under a new law regulating migration. Although this status provides them with indefinite residence and the promise of non-refoulement, Turkey’s long-standing geographical limitation on the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees prevents their resettlement in the country. The deal struck between the EU and Turkey in March 2016, according to which Syrian refugees are expected to remain in Turkey, further intensifies the uncertainty of their prospects.

The main findings of the contributions to this special issue on “Precarious Lives and Syrian Refugees” can be summarized as follows:

  • Migration management legislation in Turkey securitizes Syrians’ presence in the country, thereby jeopardizing their basic rights as refugees.
  • Syrians were not given work permits until very recently, and the new regulations give them formal access to only a limited segment of the labor market. Coupled with Turkey’s labor law, which has legitimized insecure labor relations within the framework of a neoliberal logic, Syrians’ work experience is characterized by precarity. They work informally, below the minimum wage, often go unpaid, and undergo a de-qualification of their skills.
  • The precariousness of Syrians’ lives is further accentuated by the uncertainty or weakness of their social ties in Turkey.
  • On a broader international level, the Syrian outflow has also forced a questioning of the role of the UNHCR in refugee protection.

The study of Syrian migration is an emerging field. The contributions to this issue of New Perspectives on Turkey will help shape the research agenda of future studies on Syrian refugees. The authors investigate their subject matter by critically employing key concepts, among them precarity, adverse incorporation, securitization, and de-qualification. They use qualitative methods and survey and content analysis to analyze data from interviews, laws and regulations, and survey questionnaires.

This special issue represents the sort of cutting-edge research on Turkey and the Middle East that New Perspectives on Turkey regularly publishes. In addition to being a special issue, this is also a unique issue of the journal in a way that will not be self-evident to many of its readers. The production of issue no. 54 took place under extraordinary conditions for its authors and members of the editorial board. As academicians working on Turkey, they are either currently under investigation by state authorities, or else engaging in acts of solidarity with those who are being prosecuted, for having signed a petition demanding peace in the southeast of the country, where clashes between state forces and Kurdish militants have led to the casualties and/or internal displacement of thousands of civilians. As such, this special issue attests to the role that social scientists should play so as to contribute to social justice through good scholarship.

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By Deniz Yükseker, Istanbul Aydın University and Zafer Yenal, Boğaziçi University
-Editors, New Perspectives on Turkey

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